Detective Frank Nagler, the main character of the story, is watching a room filled with angry residents gathered for a public meeting called by Mayor Gabriel Richman. He is waiting for something unruly to happen:
Frank Nagler was already in the over-crowded room when Mayor Gabriel Richman entered and then hesitated in the doorway, stunned by the number of people in the council chambers. “Be careful,” Nagler advised before moving along the wall about half-way into the room. Every seat and spot along the walls were taken, the crowd crammed the hallway leading to the room and flowed through open doors into the parking lot. Richman had hoped the crowd would be calm, but there was a murmur building, a rising growl that he needed to head off.
The fire at the stoveworks destroyed five buildings, four in the vacant complex, and another in a cluster of smaller buildings where two businesses had begun renovations.
On the streets of Ironton the fire sparked an outrage, an astonished hurt as the residents realized how their futures were suddenly clouded by the fire. They had barely emptied their homes of the sodden ruins left by the flood, and now a major fire. Suspicious, they whispered. Arson, they thought.
Some radio preacher had Biblicized the disasters. Nagler could still hear his raging voice, calling down damnation, sowing tales of demons loose on the street of Ironton. The earth had cracked and hell was rising with Ironton at the epicenter. Maybe the people believed the mill would reopen. Maybe they believed Gabe Richman’s super mall would be built over the Old Iron Bog. Maybe they believed because they had no choice, because the human heart is always filled with hope. To do otherwise was to accept that they were just pawns in some political game, chess pieces being moved on a board by an invisible hand; chumps, losers, dust.
The city was a simmering caldron of distrust that exposed itself in comments posted online under Dawson’s story about the fire that crystallized in the shattering of glass at City Hall as a few gangs of kids rattled noisily through the empty downtown streets breaking glass, dumping trash cans and throwing rocks at the windows of city buildings and businesses. They were caught trying to push a Toyota onto the train tracks.
Nagler eyed the crowd warily. Who was going to start the fight? Who would be the first?
All we need is street barricades of trashed cars, fires in metal drums, gangs armed with poles and clubs and guns and we could be Belfast during The Troubles, Detroit in Sixty-seven, Watts, Montgomery, Selma, any place the distressed gathered and rose; any place pain became action.
“The Swamps of Jersey,” published by Imzadi Publishing, is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com and in paperback through stores